Offenses having surprisingly major role so far in World Series
SAN FRANCISCO — When the World Series began, it seemed fairly clear how the games would go. The resourceful Giants would scratch out an offense the way they always do — by taking a couple of walks, a few groundouts and the occasional wild pitch, sprinkling magic dust on them while chanting, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and somehow transforming them into runs. The speedy Royals would piece together an attack their preferred way, by running the bases like a 4x100 relay team and trying to steal everything except Hunter Pence's scooter. Neither team would generate much in the way of offense, and we would see a string of close, low-scoring games. 2-1. 3-2. Rinse, repeat.
But as it turns out, both these teams can hit. Not in the same game, so far, which is why the Series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 on Friday at AT&T Park, but just wait. The offenses of the Giants and Royals, more opportunistic than overpowering through most of the postseason, are showing indications of an awakening.
An encouraging sign for the Giants is that they have finally gotten production at the top of the order from leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco, who was only 7-for-44 (.159) in the postseason before the Series. Blanco has led off both games with a hit, including a homer to open Game 2, and has a .500 on-base percentage through the two games. The hitters behind him are heating up as well. Pablo Sandoval, at his bad-ball hitting best in the Series, is 4-for-9 with two doubles, and Pence is 3-for-7 with a homer, two doubles and a .556 OBP.
The Royals would like to think that their game-breaking sixth inning in Game 2, which featured an Omar Infante homer and a two-run double from Salvador Perez, was a sign of things to come. "Both teams are probably known more for winning games with pitching and defense," said Billy Butler, the Royals' designated hitter who won't be the Royals' DH for the next three games in the National League park. "That's why the offenses are overlooked sometimes. But don't be fooled. Look at these lineups and you'll see some dangerous hitters on both sides."
You won't see overly imposing starting pitchers, at least until Giants ace Madison Bumgarner returns for Game 5, and that also bodes well for the bats. Both of the Game 3 starters, 39-year-old Tim Hudson and 35-year-old Jeremy Guthrie, make their living in the 90 mph range. They depend as much on their brains as their arms to get hitters out. Guthrie allowed one run in five innings in his only postseason start, a 2-1 win over Baltimore in the ALCS. Hudson, pitching in the first World Series of his 16-year career, was very good in his first start of the 2014 postseason, allowing one run in seven innings against Washington, and not quite as good in his second, when the Cardinals reached him for four runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.
If either starter gets into the seventh, his team will consider it a bonus. The postseason has become the land of five-inning starts, and the formula is for the starter to get through the lineup twice before turning the game over to the bullpen. "(Lasting only five innings) is not the mindset of our starters," Guthrie said. "That's been the result, but we're out there trying to get as deep as we can. But playoff baseball has proven to be a grind on both sides. It's different than when you're out there throwing in May, and guys are just giving you two‑ or three‑pitch at‑bats, move on, and roll over and onto the next guy. There is a very heightened sense of awareness and focus by each side."
The Giants need to do their damage early, as they did with three runs in the first inning of Game 1, because the Kansas City relievers, particularly the late-inning triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, been as good as advertised. That hasn't been the case for San Francisco, whose bullpen has shown cracks. Hunter Strickland's meltdown in the sixth inning of Game 2 has drawn most of the attention, but righthander Jean Machi was ineffective as well, and manager Bruce Bochy might not trust either of them in a key situation for the rest of the series. Combine that with Tim Lincecum's uncertain status after his back injury in Game 2, and the Giants' options in the bullpen are somewhat limited.
That increases the chances the teams can create major fireworks on offense, or at least some sparklers. "I've never worried about our offense as much as some people have," Bochy said. "The longer the postseason goes, the more guys get settled in at the plate and start to approach their normal numbers. We'll hit, and I'm sure they feel they will, too. Both teams are so good in every other area that if you don't hit, wins will be hard to come by." But runs, it appears, may not.